Critics say GOP immigration bill could leave Black migrants vulnerable

“Immigration is uniquely a Black issue, and the way that it looks and shows up for Black migrants is very different from any other group or population.” – Haddy Gassama, policy and advocacy director at The UndocuBlack Network.

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Democrats in Congress introduced legislation that would counter a measure proposed by Republicans that they say would further exacerbate racist practices at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

During a press conference on Wednesday, House Minority Leader, U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., U.S. Rep. Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., and Democratic Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., called the nation’s immigration system “broken” and “fragile” and reintroduced the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2023.

YUMA, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 07: An immigrant family from Haiti is taken into custody by a U.S. Border Patrol agent at the U.S.-Mexico border on December 07, 2021 in Yuma, Arizona.(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The proposed legislation aims to address the underlying issues of why migrants are fleeing Central America, ensure that border patrol is committed to human rights and provide protection for vulnerable populations seeking refuge. 

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., introduced H.R. 2 earlier this month, which aims to enforce Trump-era immigration policies such as constructing a border wall. 

While speaking on the House floor on Thursday ahead of the end of Title 42, Congressman Diaz-Balart said his bill “provides real solutions to restore order to the southern border [and] strengthen our national security…”

If H.R. 2 is enacted into law, critics say it could ostracize Black migrants fleeing to the U.S. and limit their access to asylum. 

Leader Jeffries admitted the U.S. immigration system is broken but said the approach Republicans want to take is “anchored in xenophobia.” The historic first African-American leader in Congress said GOP lawmakers are “fanning the flames of hatred and distrust and irresponsible policies that will do nothing to solve the problem.”

Congressman Aguilar condemned Republicans for proposing immigration policies that are “extreme.” He said the GOP’s approach “recycles the same failed policies from the prior administration that did nothing to help our situation at the southern border.”

Democrats want a safe and orderly border and a fair immigration system that treats immigrant families and children with the dignity and respect that they deserve,” Aguilar remarked.

Haddy Gassama, policy and advocacy director at The UndocuBlack Network, told theGrio that U.S. immigration policies disproportionately impact the Black diaspora.

“Immigration is uniquely a Black issue and the way that it looks and shows up for Black migrants is very different from any other group or population,” she said. 

Gassama emphasized that border patrol practices are deeply rooted in white supremacy. 

YUMA, ARIZONA- MAY 20: Immigrants from Haiti, who crossed through a gap in the U.S.-Mexico border barrier, wait in line to be processed by the U.S. Border Patrol on May 20, 2022 in Yuma, Arizona. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

“Border patrol, just like ICE, just like your local police, they’re all forms of policing in this country. And all forms of policing in the U.S. are direct derivatives of slave patrols…white vigilantes who are essentially deputized to hunt Black people escaping chattel slavery,” she proclaimed. 

Gassama added that “whether it’s local police, ICE or CBP” Black people “are always going to bear the heaviest brunt of those systems. 

Those barriers, she said, do not change based on any one administration or different policies. 

“It’s a very inherent and ingrained sort of thing that will take a larger system-wide change,” Gassama argued.

Amy Fischer, advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International, told theGrio Black migrants have faced unfair treatment “for decades.”

U.S. immigration policy has really been grounded in anti-Blackness and the Biden administration has really refused to understand that and enact policies that aim to undermine the anti-Blackness that is so pervasive in the immigration system,” said Fischer. 

On Sept. 19, 2021, U.S. border agents on horseback used excessive force against Haitians arriving at the U.S. border near Del Rio, Texas. The incident sent shockwaves through the nation and highlighted concerns about racial issues at the border, the Associated Press reported.

Gassama called the incident “terrible” but said it presented “an opportunity for the administration to step up, name the inherent anti-Blackness in its enforcement systems and do something about it.”

She said the administration dropped the ball by conducting an internal investigation several months later and doing little to hold border patrol agents accountable for misconduct. 

Ari Sawyer, the border researcher for the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch, told theGrio that the U.S. favors immigrants who are European or of European descent. 

U.S. Border Patrol agents interact with Haitian immigrants on the bank of the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas on September 20, 2021 as seen from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

What we saw with the Del Rio situation versus what we saw when Ukrainians seeking asylum arrived at the border is really telling about the way the United States handles its immigration policy. It’s 100% infused with racial bias,” she stated. 

The U.S. lacks a system that records racially discriminatory incidents at the U.S.- Mexico border; however, Fischer said organizations like Amnesty International are able to track racial discrimination “from listening to the lived experience of people of color.”

“The United States cannot empirically say that their systems are not anti-Black if they have no data to prove it,” Fischer remarked. 

Gassama suggested that the Biden-Harris administration create an avenue to collect data that will monitor “instances of anti-Blackness so we can hold people accountable” and “hopefully one day end that practice.” 

Prior to President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Gassama told theGrio The UndocuBlack Network requested that his administration create a task force to oversee this initiative.

“As soon as we found out they were elected, we were asking them to set up a White House task force on Black migration for this very reason, understanding that immigration is one thing, racial equity is another thing,” she recounted. 

In the meantime, Fischer said the U.S. needs to “embrace” that migrants have “the human right to seek asylum.”

“People can come to the U.S. border, they can seek asylum and pursue their asylum claims in communities in the United States, while supported by community-based organizations,” she declared.

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